Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Manipulation

By John Steinbeck

Manipulation

Mac's mantra in In Dubious Battle—and his best advice to Jim—is "use everything." This philosophy leads him to take outrageous risks, like pretending to know how to deliver a freakin' baby, and to use people and situations to the benefit of the cause, without regard to either common decency or common sense.

Here's the thing: it usually works out for him. Whether it's Joy's perfectly timed death or Dick's ability to negotiate between the sheets, Mac makes no scruple about using whatever materials come his way to claim victory for the Party.

But sometimes those commodities are human lives. Mac wants to draw out the strike as long as possible, hoping that it will turn extra violent so that the workers can own public sympathy. It seems truly brutal that Mac should hold up this philosophy against an already exploited group of people—and in the name of helping them to improve their lives, to boot.

But Mac and Jim aren't the only ones in this game. The Growers' Association itself has no problem manipulating public opinion through corrupt means. The Growers also do everything they can to side-step the workers' rights to gather and protest, using wealth and position to bend the judiciary and law enforcement to their will.

Maybe that's the "dubious" part of the battle: both sides are fighting for something that, in a just society, they should not be contending for.

Questions About Manipulation

  1. What means do the Growers use to sway public sympathy in their direction?
  2. How does Mac convince Dakin to support the strike? How about Anderson?
  3. Why does Mac believe that a defeat in the orchards is not such a big deal?
  4. How does Jim convince London and Mac to run with his plan to rally the men? Why do they obey his orders?

Chew on This

Steinbeck doesn't take sides in this work; he's willing to reveal the dirty tactics of both Growers and strikers for our scrutiny.

There is only one thing that both the Growers and the leaders of the strike really fear: public opinion.

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